Steven B. Wilson
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The all-concrete high-banked half-mile oval that sits inside one of the most impressive and versatile sports stadiums on the planet, nestled between the rolling hills and mountains of Northeast Tennessee, really is a one-of-a-kind place.
Many have come to call it The Last Great Colosseum. And that's for good reason.
NASCAR's gladiators of speed have been battling it out at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway two times a year since 1961. Many of stock car racing's biggest legends have been created there. Some of the most fabled finishes in the sport's history have occurred inside that arena. Some drivers say they get chills just walking into the place, knowing its star-studded backstory.
Fans, the traveling press corps and thousands of social media pundits all proclaimed the recent Food City 500 one of the best races in recent memory. It had it all: plenty of side-by-side action in the lower groove, drivers speeding around the high groove, lots of passing and drivers mixing it up, some bumping and grinding and even a bit of beating and banging.
As Dale Earnhardt, Jr. summed it up so eloquently after sweeping both races here in August 2004, "It's Bristol, baby!"
Fans can expect to be entertained even more at the upcoming Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race, Aug. 16-19. It's become a hard-core Bucket List destination for many. Unofficially, it's been referred to as one of NASCAR's majors. Certainly, fans can expect to enjoy an amazing weekend of racing, and who knows what else might happen when the lights are turned on.
And that's not just because Earnhardt Jr., who days after the Food City 500 stunned the motorsports world by announcing this season will be his last, will be making his final runs around The World's Fastest Half-Mile at the controls of his famed No. 88 Axalta Chevy.
No doubt, celebrating Dale Jr.'s Bristol legacy will be a huge part of the race weekend, and something that no devoted fan will want to miss, but there will be so much more. The tight racing that fans crave and have come to expect will also be in the spotlight, led by a hungry batch of drivers longing to acquire one of the much sought-after BMS winner's Gladius swords.
Five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch says for a novice fan, Bristol provides the most complete NASCAR 101 experience around. And for educated fans, they already know Bristol is the best place to watch a race.
"There's no other track this size, that has this much banking, that holds this many people," Busch said. "I always tell people if you've never been to a NASCAR race, you don't start at the Daytona 500. You don't start at Indianapolis. Charlotte is a great place to come see the heritage of our sport, but if you really want to see the true short track of how our sport found its way up, watching guys like Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte grind it out for wins and guys like Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough, they all came to Bristol, because if you conquered Bristol it was something special."
The thing that makes Bristol so enjoyable for the drivers is the challenge of taming the high banks at a tremendous rate of speed. Enduring 500 laps around the Colosseum, both from a stamina standpoint as well as the ability to keep a racecar intact, has proven over the years to be the ultimate NASCAR survival test.
"Bristol is a physical place," said 7-time Monster Energy Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson, who won the Food City 500. "You don't have a lot of time down the straightaways to think about things. You very much get into a rhythm of just running. I feel like you're just wide open all the time, whereas I feel like at Talladega there are certain portions in the race where things might calm down for a little while. Here at Bristol, I feel like you don't really have much of a break and it's just all the time wide open. I think that keeps everybody on their toes and keeps the intensity up. I think that just makes the racing that much more entertaining."
Clint Bowyer, who finished second in April's Food City 500, said he was completely exhausted post-race, yet utterly thrilled with what he had just experienced at the same time.
"I know that everybody wants to see the Bristol of old and us beating and banging and moving cars," Bowyer said in the media center after following Johnson across the finish line. "I'm telling you, the effort that you put into driving the car, you can't drive them any harder than that. Literally it's a qualifying lap almost every single time. I think (Bristol) has done a great job of creating that environment. It really is an ever-changing racetrack.
"You'll start on the bottom, get up there and find something on the outside, and hell, by the end of the run you might be right back on the bottom and finding better grip and better speed down there. It's a ton of fun to be able to race like that, and it's extremely challenging. I've been doing this a long time and that's about as hard as I've ever drove in my life."
Johnson says the track takes no prisoners and it simply doesn't allow for drivers to be able to tip-toe around the place. That is what keeps the fans at the edge of their seats for 500 laps.
"You're on the razor's edge around this track," Johnson said. "It's really an interesting track. If you lay off and don't drive the car as hard as you need to, the vertical and lateral forces aren't in the car to make it turn, so your handling completely changes if you try to soft foot it around here or soft pedal it. You've got to stay committed and run the heck out of the car."
And the fun at Bristol Motor Speedway isn't contained simply to the action taking place on the track. It's everywhere. There's so many fun options for the entire family, including some state-of-the-art Kids Zones, great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, and lots of Party Zones, premium VIP experiences, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.
"I always look forward to coming to Bristol with the atmosphere, the way the track is designed, the way the intimate setting is so cool for the fans, the fact that there's no garage area here; we work out on pit road," Busch said. "There are so many little small things that are fun and unique about Bristol."
The Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race week kicks off with the Bush's Beans 150 NASCAR Whelen Modified Series Race and the UNOH 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The racing action continues on Friday night, Aug. 18 with the Food City 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. The Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race 500 lap event concludes the weekend of racing on Saturday evening, Aug. 19.
Affordable tickets are available for the Camping World Truck Series race, the XFINITY Series race and Pinty's Qualifying. Kids (12 and under) are free with a paid adult for those two days of racing. Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race tickets for adults start at $69, while kids' tickets for Saturday night are only $10. To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.
Ready to get back to good ole classic short track racing, ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards newbie Justin Fontaine (@driverFontaine) treks to Madison (Wisc.) International Speedway eyeing a career-best finish in Friday night’s Montgomery Ward 200.
Armed with the support of AM Racing and their development team Win-Tron Racing, Fontaine heads to the Badger State looking to shake off the disappointment of Michigan International Speedway last week, but showcase his talent in the first of a three-race short track stretch for the ARCA tour.
Last weekend in the Great Lakes state, Fontaine powered to strong practice times and even showcased a better qualifying performance at the 2.0-mile oval, but an oiled track sent the Asheville, N.C. native into the wall just seven laps into the 100 lap Corrigan Oil 200, prematurely ending his day.
Reflecting on his first Motor City experience, Fontaine is grateful for the experience, but ready to put last week in the rear-view mirror and focus out the windshield on racing under the lights Friday night.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back in our No. 33 ProMATIC Automation Toyota this weekend,” said Fontaine.
“This Win-Tron Racing team has been able to bring some very fast race cars to the track for me to drive. Now, we just need some luck.”
“I was a little too conservative in my ARCA return at Elko Speedway earlier this month, but I’ve learned from that. Now, I’m ready to go to Madison and see what we can pull off.”
Even though he doesn’t have any prior experience at Madison’s half-mile oval, the AM Racing developmental driver will lean on Win-Tron Racing team principal Kevin Cywinski and AM Racing crew chief Bill Henderson.
“I am really gelling with my team right now,” added Fontaine, the cousin of NASCAR Truck Series driver Chris Fontaine. “Bill knows what I’m looking for in our ProMATIC Toyota and I’m able to give him the feedback he needs to make the car better. Plus, Kevin’s a veteran of Madison hailing back from his racing days. I’m really optimistic that we can practice, qualify and race in the top-10.”
“We must keep making progress,” he added. “It’s showing. I think that’s one reason we were so competitive at Michigan. Once we finish inside the top-10, we can focus on finishing inside the top-five and then winning races.”
“The team I’m with is capable of winning and I think if I’m in the right position, I can win. We just need everything to come together to make it all happen. Maybe Madison will do the trick. I’m thrilled to race in tight quarters again.”
Currently 20th in the series’ standings, Fontaine has a career best finish of 11th at Elko (Minn.) Speedway earlier this month.
While sticking with a heavy ARCA schedule for now, Fontaine’s focus is expected to turn towards the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he’ll compete in a limited schedule this summer in an AM Racing entry.
The Montgomery Ward 200 (200 laps / 100 miles) is the ninth of 20 races on the 2017 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards schedule. Practice begins Fri., June 23 with an hour and a half practice session planned from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. General Tire pole qualifying is set for later in the day at 5:00 p.m. The race is set to take the green flag later in the day shortly after 8:00 p.m. The event will be broadcasted live on MAVTV, while ARCARacing.com will stream live timing and scoring throughout the week’s activities. All times are local (CT).
AM Racing PR
No doubt about it: Austin Blair was full of surprises on Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois.
Thanks to a last-minute opportunity, Blair was a surprise entry in the ARCA Midwest Tour Illinois Lottery 50, the support race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin' for Linemen 200. The 17-year-old from Fairview Heights, Illinois surprised many of the series veterans in his debut in an asphalt Super Late Model.
In a turn of events that could have been ripped from the pages of a Hollywood script, Blair was presented the opportunity to drive the Justin Oertel-prepared CJ Materials & Recycling KBM Toyota Camry in the early afternoon.
“On Friday afternoon I was just helping the speedway staff to prepare for the NASCAR race," Blair began. "Then just a few hours later I was busy getting my gear bag ready to go racing on Saturdaynight. Series promoter Gregg McKarns knew that Justin had a back-up car in the trailer and worked with me to make it all come together.”
Blair raced Quarter Midgets and Bandoleros extensively from 2006-2010 before graduating to Midgets on California dirt tracks for Cory Kruseman at the age of 11. At 12 years of age he began driving the K&N asphalt Midget in the United States Auto Club Ignite Series at tracks in Nevada and California. Most recently his career has included karting, road racing and Midget racing in the St. Louis region. The St. Louis ARCA Midwest event was his first-ever time competing in a full-bodied race car.
Blair had only a few minutes before practice to meet the crew and look over the car. Blair qualified 10th in the 22-car field at 33.771 seconds for an average speed of more than 133 mph. In the Illinois Lottery 50, Blair ran as high as third place in the early going before a right-front tire issue forced a pit stop with just eight laps remaining. Following the tire change, Blair was able to work his way back up to 12th place in the final rundown.
“When I was passing the fourth-place car on lap 10 we made just a little bit of contact in turn one and I believe that’s what got the tire,” Blair explained. “It was really starting to fade away just prior to the caution period so the tire change saved us. Justin really had the KBM Toyota dialed in and we really had a legitimate shot at a top-three finish.
"That was my first time ever racing anything where I was actually sitting on the left side of the car," Blair added. "I hadn’t planned on making a pit stop but that went well and we had a good finish. I can't complain at all about how our day turned out -- especially when you consider I was hanging banners on the fences yesterday and was racing today. I have to thank Gregg McKarns for his endorsement and Justin Oertel and everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports for taking a chance on me. Hopefully I met their expectations.”
Blair, a senior at nearby Father McGivney High School, is still finalizing his racing plans for the remainder of 2017 and 2018.
“I ran the Chili Bowl in January with the Jake Neuman Racing team and we have plans to run at least four races in the POWERi National Midget series next month. I had to reschedule my non-wing Sprint Car debut for Cory Kruseman at Ventura earlier this year due to weather so I’m still trying to figure out when that will take place. My family and sponsors had been working on an ASCS Sprint Car to race later this year but I really enjoyed the ARCA Midwest Tour, so we might want to wait before we put a wing on anything. I want to race everything at least once and have to be ready to take advantage when opportunities present themselves. I know, at some point, I’m going to have to make a decision as to what form of racing to concentrate on. I really enjoy it all.”
Austin Blair PR
The World’s Largest Hot Dog Chain® sponsors Pastrana at the Sept. 29 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race22 Jun 2017
Taking its cue from the action sports star’s years of iconic “hot dog” moves, Wienerschnitzel is giving one lucky fan the opportunity to visit – and even learn tricks from -- professional racer and stunt performer Travis Pastrana at “Pastranaland”, his Davidsonville, Md., home and freestyle training center.
In addition to the Grand Prize of a hosted trip to “Pastranaland” the weekend before his return to NASCAR (Sept. 23-24), including airfare, hotel accommodations and some spending cash, fans can win the second prize of a trip for two to Las Vegas to see Pastrana compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race. The World Largest Hot Dog Chain® has launched the “#Pastranadog Sweepstakes” (www.wienershnitzel.com) as part of the company’s sponsorship of the eleven-time X-Games Champion appearance at the Sept. 29 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race at Las Vegas. Pastrana will be racing his No. 45 for Niece Motorsports.
“This is a partnership made in action sports heaven,” said J.R. Galardi,Wienerschnitzel executive vice president. “Travis loves hot dogs and Wienerschnitzel fans love Travis – so we knew we had to bring the two together. It was actually Travis’ idea to offer one lucky fan the chance to visit him in his one-of-a-kind backyard. Who knows – he may even throw in a riding lesson or two.”
June 22 Wienerschnitzel Takeover To celebrate the contest and his partnership with Wienerschnitzel, Pastrana will be serving the chain’s legendary Chili Dogs, Corn Dogs, Chicken Schnitzel Sandwiches, Tastee Freeze desserts and other menu favorites during a 1.5-hour restaurant takeover on June 22 at the Wienerschnitzel at 3145 West 3500 South in West Valley City, Utah, eight miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
According to Galardi, Travis will be in Salt Lake City for the June 24 Nitro World Games at Rice-Eccles Stadium and jumped at the chance to spend time with local customers while contributing to a larger cause. “In between his cooking and serving duties, he’ll be signing autographs, posing for pictures and hanging with his chili dog-loving fans.”
Wienerschnitzel will donate all proceeds generated during the takeover to the Road 2 Recovery Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing professional motocross/supercross athletes with financial assistance and motivational, emotional and spiritual support after they sustain career-ending injuries.
As an only-at-Wienerschnitzel bonus, fellow Nitro Circus Tour, X-Games and BMX athlete Andy Buckworth will help Travis behind the counter and perform a few bike tricks in the parking lot and on the restaurant’s iconic yellow A-frame roof.
To enter the “#Pastranadog Sweepstakes” participants must complete an entry form at www.wienerschnitzel.com through August 20. There is no purchase necessary to enter. See website for full sweepstakes rules.
Niece Motorsports PR
Retired United States Army General Wesley Clark will serve as the Grand Marshal for the 59th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, the Independence Day holiday weekend classic scheduled for Saturday night, July 1 at Daytona International Speedway.
The Coke Zero 400, one of the most exciting night races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, will begin at 7:30 p.m. (TV – NBC; Radio – MRN Radio, SiriusXM) following Clark delivering the famous “Drivers, start your engines” command to the 40-car field. In addition to giving the command, Clark will ride in one of the Grand Marshal cars during pace laps prior to the green flag of the 160-lap, 400-mile race and attend the drivers meeting.
“In front of the stars of NASCAR and thousands of race fans in attendance, we look forward to General Wesley Clark’s starting command as Grand Marshal for the Coke Zero 400,” Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said. “It’s an honor to host a decorated veteran such as General Clark on a patriotic weekend in which we salute all of our military for their service to our country.”
In 38 years of service in the U.S. Army, Clark rose to the rank of four-star general as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He retired from the military in 2000 and was a Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 2003. Today, General Clark participates in several international and domestic organizations, he serves as Chairman and CEO of Wesley K. Clark Associates, and sits on the Board of Directors for Growth Energy, a trade association that supports ethanol producers and promotes American Ethanol as an official partner of NASCAR.
Clark graduated first in his class at West Point and completed degrees in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University (B.A. and M.A.) as a Rhodes Scholar. While serving in Vietnam, he commanded an infantry company in combat where he was severely wounded and evacuated home. He has commanded at the battalion, brigade and division level, and served in a number of significant staff positions. He finished his career as NATO commander and Supreme Allied Commander Europe where he led NATO forces to victory in Operation Allied Force.
His awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Defense Distinguished Service Medal (five awards), silver star, bronze star, purple heart, honorary knighthoods from the British and Dutch governments, and numerous other awards from other governments, including award of Commander of the Legion of Honor (France).
After a crash and premature ending at Michigan, rookie driver Zane Smith is anxious to hit the reset button when the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards resumes Friday night for the Montgomery Ward 200 at Madison International Speedway.
Smith, a rookie contender hailing from Newport Beach, Ca. enter the weekend eighth in the series championship point standings. Notching two top-5 and five top-10 in six series starts, Smith is focused on getting back on-track behind the wheel of his No.55 LaPaz – Icon Vehicle Dynamics Toyota.
“We had a really good car at Michigan – but terrible luck and results to show, said Smith. “I’m focused on putting that behind us and going out this weekend and having a strong race. Up until last week we had some decent momentum building. It’s time to move forward and pick up where we left off. If Elko is any indication of what we’ll have for Madison – we’ll be in really good shape.”
After missing out on the season opener at Daytona and the Talladega race, Smith has re-claimed the 55-team for the remainder of the year.
“We’ve got a lot more racing ahead of us this summer – no more breaks in my schedule. Billy (Venturini) and the guys in the shop have done a great job preparing fast Toyota’s. I’m looking forward to getting back in the car and putting our bad luck behind us,” added Smith.
The Montgomery Ward 200 is Friday, June 23 and kicks off with practice from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m., followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 5 p.m. The 200-lap Montgomery Ward 200 is set for an 8:00 p.m. start and will air live on MAVTV. All times are local (Central). Look for Live Timing, Scoring and Chat at arcaracing.com.
RSS Racing is pleased to welcome Ritchie Industries as the primary sponsor for Ryan Sieg at both XFINITY races at Iowa Speedway. Ritchie Industries joined the team at Iowa Speedway last July where Sieg finished 15th.
Since 1921, Ritchie Industries has manufactured durable, dependable automatic fountains for many species of livestock, including beef, dairy, equine, swine, sheep and goats. The distinct Ritchie design has been the standard bearer of quality. Ritchie fountains continue to serve all sizes of operations in the livestock industry with equipment designed to provide years of trouble-free use.
Ryan Sieg is currently 14th in the series standings following a solid 15th place finish last weekend in Michigan. “It’s great to have Ritchie Industries back with us again at Iowa Speedway. It’s their home turf so we want to put on a good show for them and all the great race fans in Iowa. We made some positive gains last weekend in Michigan and I’m hoping we can keep the momentum headed in the right direction this weekend,” commented Sieg.
RSS Racing PR
When Eddie and Len Wood head west this weekend for the races at Sonoma Raceway, they’ll travel by jet airplane.
But on that flight their minds likely will wander back to the days when they drove the team hauler to road course races at another California track, Riverside International Raceway.
Back in the day, Eddie and Len Wood, now the co-owners of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion driven by Ryan Blaney, made that long trek in the company of some older members of the team, like their father Glen Wood, uncle Leonard Wood or a crewmember like Kenny Martin.
“We always had someone older with us,” Eddie Wood said. “It sounds like a lot of work to drive that far, but it really wasn’t. Those trips were some of our favorite times in the sport. It was like a game figuring out how long it would take us to get to the next town.”
The Wood Brothers enjoyed great success at Riverside, winning eight times – four with David Pearson, three with Dan Gurney and another in 1967 with Parnelli Jones in a No. 115 Ford that was initially entered by Bill Stroppe but prepared and serviced by the Wood Brothers.
They also have had some strong runs at Sonoma, including a runner-up finish in 2005 with Ricky Rudd driving.
For that race, the Motorcraft team and then-crew chief Michael “Fatback” McSwain used the same chassis that Rudd had driven to victory at Sonoma three years earlier while driving for Robert Yates.
Len Wood recalled that the car had been cut down to the frame and stored at Yates’ shop. But McSwain and Rudd liked it, so the Woods purchased the chassis, and the team built it into a road-racing car.
“The seat was moved to the right, and a lot of other changes were made to adapt it to road courses,” Len Wood said.
Rudd qualified 20th, but the car proved to be much better than that in the race.
As the laps wound down, McSwain, considered by many to be one of the best strategists during his time in the business, made a decision to call Rudd to pit road for fresh tires and fuel as soon as he was in a window to make it to the end of the race.
As other drivers stopped, Rudd cycled into the lead.
He held the top spot for 18 laps before Tony Stewart, riding on fresher rubber, passed him for the win with 11 laps to go.
McSwain said the decision to pit was easy for him.
“It was a gamble, but I wasn’t scared to take it,” he said. “Some crew chiefs worry that they might lose their jobs by taking gambles. But I was more worried about winning than I was about my job.”
McSwain also pointed out that even though the runner-up finish was due in large part to strategy, there was more to it than that.
“It wasn’t like we had a 40th-place car and lucked into a good finish,” he said. “The car was good all day.”
Eddie Wood said that McSwain had a knack for making good strategy calls and for being able to communicate well with his drivers.
Now the Wood Brothers are racing at Sonoma with a young Blaney at the wheel of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion and with Jeremy Bullins on the pit box as crew chief.
Although Blaney has run just two times on road courses, once each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen last year, he has a road-course win in the Camping World Truck Series at Bowmanville, Ont., and two top-three finishes in Xfinity Series races on road courses at Mid-Ohio and Road America.
“It’ll be Ryan’s second Cup race at Sonoma, and he has some other road-course races under his belt,” Wood said. “I feel pretty good about the weekend.”
Qualifying for Sunday’s 110-lap race is set for Saturday at 11:45 p.m. (2:45 Eastern Time) and the race is scheduled to start just after noon (3 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FS1.
Although still a relative newcomer to NASCAR racing, Harrison Rhodes will sign in at Iowa Speedway this weekend as a veteran of sorts.
Rhodes has raced in four Xfinity Series events at the seven-eighths mile track.
“I feel like I know the track pretty well,” Rhodes said. “It’s short but fast. If you have a good car, you can cut some really good laps there.”
Rhodes will drive the 01 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller in Saturday’s American Ethanol E15 250 at Iowa.